With No News, Gazans Mourn Relatives Lost at Sea

No bodies have been recovered since boat carrying 500 people was rammed and sunk off the coast of Malta on September 6.

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Palestinian Soad al-Jorf, 36 (R), speaks with her son Ahmed al-Jorf, 17, near a picture of her missing son Hussein al-Jorf, 19, and a damaged copy of the Quran in her house in Gaza, Sept. 18, 2014.Credit: AFP

Families of Gazan refugees who disappeared when their boat sunk off the coast of Malta earlier this month have begun mourning their missing relatives, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency reported Sunday.

"The families of the missing people have been in open mourning" for the last two weeks, Gaza resident Khalil Abu Shammala told Ma'an. He appealed to President Mahmoud Abbas to help uncover information regarding those still missing from the shipwreck.

An estimated 500 migrants were lost at sea on September 6 when another boat run by smugglers rammed their boat. Most of them were said to be Palestinians from Gaza. Rescue workers have been unable to recover any bodies of Palestinians thought to have perished in the tragedy, which occurred in international waters.

Only eight known Palestinian survivors were rescued. Italy has promised political asylum to two of them, according to Mai al-Kaila, the Palestinian ambassador to Italy, while Greek authorities granted temporary asylum to three of them, Palestinian ambassador to Greece Marwan Tubasi told Ma'an.

Some relatives of the missing Palestinians protested outside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City yesterday, Ma'an reported.

"15 days have passed and we still haven't received any news about my husband and my son," said protester Um Udayy Nahhal. "It is my very right to know whether they are alive or dead," she told reporters, carrying a photo of her husband Fawzi Nahhal and her son Udayy, 7. According to Ma'an, she said the two had been on the fated boat.

Palestinians reportedly have been paying smugglers $3,000 to $5,000 each to take them to Europe, often on very flimsy boats. Some 2,500 people out of a total of 120,000 migrants who have attempted to cross the sea so far in 2014 have perished at sea.

While most of the refugees have been fleeing instability in places like Syria and Africa, the war and destruction caused by Operation Protective Edge this summer has prompted a surge in asylum seekers from Gaza.